For those unawares to the origins of the multi-badged GT86 you should know this first: The Toyota GT86, Scion FR-S, and the Subaru BRZ are the same vehicle. The wonderful product of a joint merger between Toyota and Subaru to create an affordable sports car like car companies once did before gas prices climbed and innovation was thrown out the window to quell the fears of corporate bean counters around the globe. Camrys. Priuses. Corollas and Civics. These were safe. It is hard to condemn Japanese automakers for going conservative, though. After all, while American car manufactures filed for bankruptcy and continued to manufacture muscle cars and large trucks, the Japanese manufactures discontinued producing sports cars and looked elsewhere. Gone were the Celica, MR2, S2000 and Prelude. They instead used the economic crisis to implement new technologies: hybrid, etc. And now these hybrid technologies are not only used to conserve on fuel but to make heaping amounts of power. Think Porsche 918. A car which has nearly 1,000 HP and emits less CO2 than a Prius….
With things on the rebound, Toyota sought to make a return to the days of old, to honor its sports car heritage—a pedigree any auto enthusiast can respect. Toyota 2000GT, MR2, Supra, AE 86, and now the GT86, and someday (hopefully) the lovely FT-1. And with such goals they teamed up with Subaru—the company which builds low-slung boxer engines.
And what a merger it was. A proper 2+2, FR (Front engine, Rear wheel drive) Japanese car was borne up from the smoldering ash of great Japanese cars long since gone. The COG (Center Of Gravity) in the GT86 is a staggering 18 inches off the ground, second only to the Chevy Corvette ZR1 as of 2013—a car which costs 3-4 times as much money, if not more when new. The feeling off all your weight being but a foot and a half off the ground is something any car enthusiast should try on for size.
With Toyota piloting the aesthetic design helm, the car looks much like a Toyota 2000GT and an MKII MR2 had a child. And, in my opinion, the progeny is one of glorious conception. A fairly long and wide front end, vertically rolled front fenders, a fastback design with shelved off rear quarter panels, slightly raised roof panels on both passenger and driver side (room for racing helmets!), and the list goes on.
My GT86, AKA Subaru BRZ:
Why I chose the BRZ: I originally thought I would purchase a Scion FR-S to support Toyota’s vision with the car. I was dead set on it, even though I hated the Scion badge and the “cheap” stigma that had latched onto it like some parasitic leech. I also liked the few minor styling distinctions the FR-S claimed over the BRZ. The aggressive front bumper. Angular and downward sloping and all the more sinister for it. If menace were a style. The fender with the 86 styled piston logo; the vent which appears to be pressed further inwards. I even liked the suspension differences between the two when the car is at the limit—the FR-S has the tendency to oversteer due to stiffer springs in the rear, while the BRZ has a tendency to understeer with its stiffer springs up front. Both very minor, and both will act how you want, but when completely neutral that they will behave in those respective manners.
I ending up choosing the BRZ for the interior features and amenities. It is a place I am going to spend a healthy amount of time (perhaps unhealthy), so the offerings that accompany the BRZ Limited suit me well. Heated seats are nice. Leather wrapped bolsters with suede inserts for the bucket seats are comfortable and stylish. The infotainment/navigation head unit, though a touch slow, is a welcomed luxury. I have found twisting, rising roads to assault with the marginally grippy tires just by studying the map as I travel about. No longer are these roads concealed behind lush trees and heaping helpings of geographical ignorance safe from my curiosities–or perhaps I am no longer safe from them.
I happen to like the more reserved front end of the BRZ as well–both bumper styles suit the 86. Some days I am envious of the nose on FR-S, but other days I am happy with the more sophisticated front on the BRZ—it is, dare I say, a little Porsche like. The fender vent is something I am not crazy about, but it looks okay—there are always replacement ones I can buy if I deem it necessary. If the vents were functional there would be no complaint from me. I also like the spoiler that comes on the BRZ Limited. Adds a touch of flare to the look.
How does it drive?
In a word: nimble. The car weighed in at around 2,700 pounds on my purchase order—approximately 500-1,000 pounds lighter than most modern vehicles. The steering is light and responsive and communicates with the road like long lost lovers returned to each other once again. When hammering around a diminishing radius turn the steering wheel progressively stiffens, and what a welcomed resistance it is–beneath the wail of the high revving Boxer engine there is a battle being waged, and the feel in the steering wheel communicates this quarrel nigh perfectly. Turn in is sharp and one can wait till the last possible moment to rotate into a turn and set themselves on a collision course with the apex. The chassis is extremely rigid. And boasting a rigid chassis, the 86 earns a highly respectable collision safety rating–yet another added bonus for the practical driver.
The stock tires, however, leave much to be desired in the grip realm. They are fun, but when pushing the car you can feel the limitations of the mechanical grip. The car feels a bit loose on the back end, “following” you around the corner. The front wheels scrub and squeal with high entry speed, as they should, and under heavy braking they can struggle to grab the road, especially when wet. I would love to feel how the car handles with some Michelin Pilot Super Sports or another like minded performance tire—it will happen in due time.
The shifter is amazing. Short, notchy throws which snap into the places they ought to. There is no need to force it into gates, save for maybe first and second gear when it is not yet warm. Admittedly, cold shifting through the first few gears is a bit cumbersome. Other than that, the car is eager to find the next gear. A gentle flick will place it in the proper position and off you go. Most importantly, the shifter teaches its commander good habits. Gentle. Timely. Smooth. All qualities it demands of its pilot, and when the hand that feeds satisfies all its wants the result is a satisfying *thwack*! The engagement point on the clutch is a bit high, and there are DIY guides to alter this on ft86club.com, but I think if one just takes the time to acclimatize to its engagement threshold you will be satisfied.
The big question with the GT86/FRS/BRZ is power. Only 200 HP you say? Yeah. Do I think it is enough? Yes. Would I like more? Of course. But I honestly feel the 200 is sufficient. Entry and exit speeds in the BRZ are quite high for street use, and with stickier tires and thus a higher mechanical limit, I would imagine the wild factor would rise tremendously. Besides, it still tosses the tires when hard shifting from first to second. If you are on the tireless journey for more power, a car which offers the same level of driving engagement with great steering and superior chassis feel, they make that which you desire. It is called a Porsche. I’d go for the Cayman GTS. The noises it produces are sublime.
Overall, the BRZ is a blast to drive. The low slung seating position; the low COG; the way you can only see the massive, vertically rolled fenders from the driver’s seat; the steering feel; and the speeds at which you enter and exit corners on Prius tires offer the high levels of satisfaction that a proper sports car should be required to provide. Toyota and Subaru accomplished what they set out to do. And as much as I love what the car offers stock, I have plans to enhance the original vision. Posts after this will focus on what I have already done to the car, and what I plan to do in the future. If you are on the fence about purchasing an 86, go sit in one and put the seat all the way down. I knew it had my money as soon as the seat lowered.